You’ve heard this before, but it’s a life-and-death message that bears repeating:

You must talk to your kids about the dangers of abusing drugs and alcohol — and you must do it early, probably earlier than you think is necessary.

These conversations — and the experts recommend that you keep up an ongoing discussion — are as much a part of your job as putting a roof over your children’s heads, providing food and clothing them. You can make a difference, and you must try to do so.

As for raising the topic early, consider that the average age that kids try drugs for the first time in Arizona is — brace yourself —13, according to, a statewide nonprofit. That’s average, so it means a whole lot of children try them at an even younger age.

Marijuana use is on the rise, and the abuse of prescribed medications among teens is an “epidemic,” reports.

“We are seeing a surge of pot use in Tucson,” Amy Bass, director of prevention at Pasadera Behavioral Health Network, told us. “We’ve found that when the message of danger goes down, as it has with the medical marijuana law, then use goes up. The message is that pot is a safe drug to use. We have the same problem with prescription drugs.” says one in five Pima County eighth-graders has used marijuana; among 12th-graders it’s 45 percent. One in five Arizona high school seniors has abused prescription medication.

But kids say parents are not powerless.

“The (2012 Arizona) Youth Survey showed that the No. 1 reason kids say they do not try drugs or alcohol is parental disapproval. We all think it’s about peer pressure, but parents do have influence,” Bass said. The survey is sponsored by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. reports that 90 percent of addictions begin in the teenage years, but kids whose parents talk to them about the risks of drugs are 50 percent less likely to use them.

You can’t neglect this duty.

Some parents may worry about raising the topic for fear they’ll be called out for hypocrisy because they drink alcohol themselves, or take prescription medications. Bass said others fail to step up because their child seems to be doing very well in school and at home.

But there’s a lot of help out there for parents. Here’s information about some of it:

  • To get ideas and guidance on how to talk with your children and what to say, visit There are links there to sample conversations as well as to information about drugs and alcohol, ideas for ways to raise the topic, and other tools to help parents help their kids.

We especially found the conversation suggestions to be helpful. Example: The site suggests that parents of grade-school-age children can coach them to “blame” Mom or Dad when they refuse to use drugs, saying “If you’re ever offered drugs at school, tell that person, ‘My mother would kill me if I took that and then she wouldn’t let me play baseball.’”

There are similar scripts for situations with kids in middle and high school and even older teens who are moving out for college or their own apartments.

  • There are free classes designed to help parents as well.

The Power of Parents workshop is co-sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Community Prevention Coalition of Pima County, Bass said. It’s designed to help parents understand harmful consequences of underage drinking and to instruct them on how to talk to kids about it.

The Parenting Wisely class, available online or in a classroom, she said, is designed to improve parenting skills, which in turn “helps prevent risky behaviors by teenagers,” including truancy, poor grades, drug and alcohol use. Bonus: Parents receive a $50 gift card when they complete the class.

  • Consider encouraging your 12- to 18-year-old to get involved in the Youth Crew sponsored by, a youth substance-abuse-prevention website project of the Community Prevention Coalition. The crew works to educate peers about the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. It meets once monthly in the evening at the Joel Valdez Main Library downtown in the evening. Check out details at

Bottom line: You can help your child avoid dangerous encounters with drug and alcohol. But you have to step up and speak up to do it.